There are briefs, and there are briefs. Some come easy and straightforward, while there are a few that are not; rather, they come with complexity and, if you permit me, ambiguity and very steep business targets.
I like to focus on the latter kind of briefs, share some learning, and perhaps possible solutions I recall. First, let me attempt to describe how these briefs come. They come directly from the management of the organisation, not from the brand managers. This usually is a response to a business facing pressure either from a performance measurements scale or from a competition trying to muscle them out of a particular space that they hitherto dominated or want to dominate. They come with goals that are high, steep and at times not very clear in the way they have been articulated.
As a PR practitioner and strategic communications consultant, the first thing to do in response to briefs of this nature is to unpack, de-clutter and create smart goals for them. How far you will succeed in the execution of this brief is a function of how well you have unpacked, de-cluttered and made the goals smart. Clearly, the opposite is not doing any of these.
It is important to call out that succeeding in unlocking complex briefs has a lot, and if not everything, to do with your ability to compartmentalise the brief by seeking to understand and articulate what to place under strategic and operations buckets of execution. Identify the stakeholders needed for the projects; understand, and put together a team for the project; and, last but not the least, have a clear view of the project’s end from the beginning. I must add that it is not always easy to see the end from the beginning. But this is very important if the project must be executed with some level of confidence to achieve the desired organisational objective. Where this is achieved, you will need to execute the project backward from a strategic leadership perspective. This means it will be easy to articulate the issues that range from resources to personnel, timelines, monitoring and evaluation, stakeholders’ engagement and more.
Let me share one of the complex briefs I learnt from in my journey so far. It is the MTN Foundation’s ‘What Can We Do Together’. This was a first-of-its-kind initiative for the business. Prior to that time, the focus was on education, health and economic empowerment, where they have and continued to do incredible works to impact lives and adding value to the nation. The approach for the #WCWDT project selection was different from the existing focus areas of the MTNF. As the name is, WCWDT was a question thrown open to Nigerians asking them how they wanted the MTNF to intervene in their communities and improve the quality of life. This automatically made the ownership to be people led by the nominees following the advertised instructions in the media on nominating projects for implementation in their communities. After a careful review process of projects selections and verification exercises, the selected projects were implemented, and the nominees were celebrated as heroes and heroines who brought positive changes to their communities.
A big pie of that project was the need for strategic amplification to internal and external stakeholders. This was seated squarely in the Corporate Affairs department to deliver. The task came like a must-do, and this must be leveraged from an economic impact base strategy that drives the narratives of integrity, demonstrate how Nigerians who, by just following the application instructions, could change their communities for the better. These nominees were to be positioned as heroes and heroines of the communities who did well by making it possible for MTNF to deploy the initiatives.
What was complex about the brief was the multi-dimensional buckets it had that included, but not limited, to ability to highlight in our strategic communications the various stages of the initiatives – ideation, announcement/call for entries, project selection/verification exercise, making the nominees the heroes and heroines of the communities to all stakeholders – traditional rulers, state and House of Representatives members and senators.
This may not sound complex to you, but it was to me and I confess that, in the heat of it, I did not have all the answers required at certain stages. The only thing I confess I had was just listening and listening to stakeholders on the project. I listened to their spoken words and unspoken body language. Perhaps, this was my first biggest break to unlock the brief and cascaded it with clarity to the team. The next major break for me after listening, and listening more and more, was to assemble the team to crack the brief. A multi-agency meeting that cuts across events management, creatives, PR, video content service providers and on-the-ground officers for verification of nominated projects.
The beauty of the team was instant alignment of strategy and clear understanding of our inter-dependencies to succeed together despite the diversity of the technicalities everyone brought on board. This united us and with the simple understanding that each of us is a pie that makes a whole called WCWDT. Indeed, we could not be working on What Can We Do Together and not be together. In the long run and after the strategy session, we were able to simplify the project to its stages of: announcement/call for entries, verification exercise, installation, and commissioning. The icing on the cake was the regional dinner and award night that held across the six geo-political zones of the country with the grand finale in Lagos.
I will not forget how the team got every nominee to be in attendance by arriving 24 hours to the event – accommodation and all travel details by land and air sorted out with allowances paid to ensure their comfort and wellbeing. The beauty of the narrative was in the proper coverage of the projects stages from start to finish to produce short videos that were deployed at the event, on traditional and social media channels to highlight the impact of the project to the communities. I will not forget the priceless story told by a lady nominee in Kolo community in Bayelsa State for a borehole. That story of how they drank from the same stream where they washed and had their bath gave us goose bumps at the reviewing stage. It remains my best story of emotional connection between a brand and its community of operation.
At the event, as planned at the onset, stakeholders from across the state and federal governments, community leaders, including traditional rulers, were present to celebrate the heroes and heroines of their communities. The media coverage was strategically orchestrated to start from local presence in each region to scale up to national media coverage across print, broadcast and social media. The strategy was to make the narrative a show and tell for the communities; local media was a huge part of the conversation while national media channels helped to further amplify the narrative.
After a very exhaustive project that demanded the best and all from us in phase one and 2,400 communities, 347 councils across the country were impacted directly. In the measurement and evaluation, the donation of 40 transformers, 40 boreholes, 14,200 school furniture, household items donations to 66 orphanages and medical supplies to 80 primary healthcare centres impacted about 10m Nigerians directly and indirectly. This outcome indeed demonstrated that, by working together, companies and communities could achieve incredible life-changing results. The WCWDT was an initiative launched in 2015 as part of the 10th anniversary of MTNF. It was conceived as something refreshingly different to impact communities across the country by connecting to their critical needs. I dare say it achieved its objective.
My take in unlocking complex PR briefs is that communications strategists must unbox themselves from their conventional knowledge of their practice irrespective of positions and experiences. You cannot undermine the power of listening to both the spoken and unspoken words from the management. Having the right team plays a major role.
As the project lead, you must lead with quality, clarity of strategic direction and organisational objective in focus to achieve for the business and its stakeholders. Have a clear understanding that you will never have all the resources you need at your disposal. You need to learn to manage and optimise what is available as budget to achieve set goals. Your narrative must be well-crafted to connect all stakeholders in story-telling. It is extremely important that you manage your internal stakeholders properly with alignments, controls, sign-offs and all due processes adequately followed to the letter. Where and when in doubt, seek clarity and remain guided. Above all, stay humble, stay focused and be very professional in the discharge of your duties. Make your team to connect to each other, irrespective of their difference in the services they render. Everyone must be valued, appreciated and given the right support to succeed on the job.
I will not forget to call out again that listening, and listening more and more, is a skill to have on the job to unlock complexities.
I believe there are no briefs too complex to be unpacked. That is why we are here to do the job. In complexities, we discover the best of ourselves. In comfort zone, we are at best complacent and cease to grow.
Career, for me, is about adding value to your organisation by constantly learning, stretching and developing new capabilities to grow yourself and be positioned for greater opportunities of life-long impact. We all need to be future-fit and future-proof to stay relevant and ahead of the curve as much as possible to keep unlocking complex briefs and more.
* Adejumoh is a PR and communications strategist